Ember Yard, Soho
Ember Yard lives up to its name. A Spanish/Italian inspired smokery, the theme of warmth runs through the entire restaurant: think bronze tinted wallpaper, brown leather banquette seating and rich autumnal coloured paintings. The Mamas and Papas – Dream a Little Dream of Me – accompanies the clinking of goldfish bowl wine glasses and the chatter of corporate diners unwinding after a hard day’s work. Emitting an inviting glow onto Berwick Street, Ember Yard is almost impossible to resist in the wake of the rainy weather which has recently covered London in a dreary blanket.
There’s a refined luxuriousness here; an attractively understated feel with a touch of the blazé: “Yes, I am slicing wafer thin pieces of Jamón ibérico from an impressively sized, hoof adorned haunch – and what of it?”. Windowed doors allow a glimpse into the wine cellar, which harbours a fine selection of Italian and Spanish wines as well as a few enticing magnums awaiting a grand event.
It’s tapas sized portions, so the best approach is to order a few dishes, have a cocktail, then go in for round two. The Smoked Bream Carpaccio accompanied with vibrant slices of blood orange is the perfect way to start. Add the special: on this occasion, perfectly char-grilled Gressingham Duck with smoked polenta. The crispy Chiporones, scattered with fried capers and sage, can be popped in the mouth far too easily.
Round two: the Quince Glazed Ibérico Pork Ribs are a must; the meat falls off the bone practically of its own accord. Have alongside the Cornish Mackerel, which is served on a bed of pickled crunchy vegetables and plump mussels. The Parsnip-Buttermilk Chips with Manchego, a creative and sophisticated take on cheesy chips, shows that yes, vegetables can still be exciting. All served on wooden boards, thin slate and blocks of charcoal, the pastoral touches lend the dishes sophistication without pretension.
Finish on a sweet note with the Bitter Chocolate Ganacha or the Lemon Tart cocktail – dessert and booze in one!
Arrive ten minutes early and await your date in the downstairs bar. Order an Italian draught beer, or a glass of lively Barbera, and get the lowdown from the knowledgeable and friendly staff on the specialities – hold back on the cocktails, this’ll be an experience you want to share.
Once your date arrives, mildly flustered and weather-beaten by this persistent rain of ours, adorn each rosy cheek with a light kiss, point to the available seat at the bar and lovingly slide over the cocktail list. Ignore the classics and embark together on a voyage of alcoholic exploration through Ember Yard’s own smoky creations. Why visit the well-traversed lands of the Martini when you can dwell among the untrodden ways of the adventurous Ember & Ash (Raisin-infused rum, PX, Bourbon Smoke)?
If in a first date scenario, and feeling rather nervous about it, remain at the bar for the rest of the evening. Take a tour of the cocktail list and exchange compliments whilst the preparatory show of smoking, slicing and caramelising takes place. Stick to plates and light snacks: the Spanish charcuterie sliced before your very eyes, stuffed gordal olives, grilled flatbread and an Italian selection of cheeses.
Or, if you want the full tapas experience, move to a table and order at will.
It’s quality not quantity, so expect the occasional dainty dish at a healthy cost.
4. Ideal as a first time encounter or a long and luxurious anniversary meal.